Sunday, April 15, 2018

Camelid Fibers

Meet the Camelids

The Camelid family originated in North America around 50 million years ago, and one would have thought that camels and their relatives came from Asia or Africa!

Over the years the camelid family branched into two main groups, known as tribes.  One tribe, the Lamini, gave rise to New World camels, which migrated to South America.  The original Lamini tribe became extinct in North America nearly 12,000 years ago and we see their South American descendants as alpacas, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas.  The second main tribe, known as the Camelini (Old World camels) migrated to Asia across the Bering Land Bridge and became the Bactrian and Dromedary camels of Asia and Africa.

Of interest to us textile folks are the camelid fibers, each unique.  Today we will look at camels.

The Bactrian ( 2 humped ) camel perhaps originated in Afghanistan which was called Bactria in ancient times.  Its tan to dark brown hair, as long as 10 inches in length, is shed once a year.  There are both domesticated and wild Bactrian camels, although the wild population is considered engangered.  There are differences between domesticated and wild Bactrians, including some differences in their DNA.

The Dromedary camels (single-humped) are adapted to hot climates and can survive for long periods without water.  However, they produce less useable fiber than Bactrian, although Arvana dromedaries can produce up to 7 pounds of fluff.  The wild dromedaries are extinct so that all dromedaries are domesticated.  In Australia there are large herds that have gone feral, their domesticated parents were brought to Australia in the late 1800’s to access desert areas.

Camels are double-coated.  The coarse hair is very strong and suitably used for ropes, halters etc.  The undercoats are down that can be gathered by hand in the spring or by combing.  The Wool Products Labeling Act classifies camel hair as wool.  It is usually combined with other wool fibers.  Fabric called camel hair is often a twill weave with a deep nap ( or may have a flat finish) and is very soft with a luxurious draping quality.

Some camel friends I met in Morocco

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hubert de Givenchy 1927-2018

Hubert de Givenchy  1927-2018

Givenchy has died at the age of 91.  The House of Givenchy released a statement lauding the founder as “ a major personality of the world of French haute couture and a gentleman who symbolized Parisian chic and elegance for more than half a century”.

“Le Grande Hubert” promoted the concept of upscale ready-to-wear mix and match separates.  Probably his most famous “look” was called “the little black dress” , a sleeveless, black evening gown.  Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s with long, black gloves and a necklace of pearls.

For information on the rise of the House of Givenchy you may refer to my blog “ The House of Givency” 12/19/17.

“A piece of material has a life.  You must never upset it, if you want the material to speak.”          Hubert de Givenchy

Monday, February 26, 2018

Levis -King of Apparel

Today marks the birthday of Levi Strauss (Feb.26, 1829),  the creator of the most widely used article of apparel.  Levis, the first of  many denim pants, can be found throughout the world, from the far East to Oceania and all of the Western world. 

Strauss was born in Buttenheim, Bavaria, in a family of 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters.  He emigrated to the US with his sisters, joining his brothers who had established a wholesale dry goods business in NYC.

In 1853 Levi left New York for San Francisco where he began his own dry goods business, Levi Strauss & Co   Meanwhile, in Reno Nevada a tailor named Jacob Davis had been making work pants using rivets at points of stress for durability and wished Strauss as a partner. In May 1873 they received a patent  for the copper revited pants.

The first material used was a heavy canvas cloth, later denim became the cloth used which was dyed blue with indigo. Denim is a stout, serviceable, twilled cotton fabric.  Standard denim is made with indigo blue-dyed warp and gray filling yarn.  It is the most important fabric of the work clothing group.  However, we are all aware that denim now plays many roles in the realm of fashion.

During his lifeime, Strauss was well known as a philanthropist.  When he died in 1902 he left an estate of nearly $6 million dollars and the business continued as a family concer.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018



Today, this word often means poor quality, poor workmanship.  However, the term “shoddy” is actually a textile term.  Callaway Textile Dictionary defines it as wool fibers that have been made into yarn or fabrics, torn apart and made ready for use again”. This is made possible with the use of a “shoddy or rag picker”, a machine for tearing apart wool rags , clippings, etc., reducing the to a fibrous condition suitable for carding.  The machine consists of a pair of strong, fluted feed rolls between which the material is slowly passed to be acted upon by a large, rapidly rotating cylinder studded with sharp pointed steel teeth or spikes.

In the field of recycling this is what happens to fabrics too worn or damaged to be used again in their present state.  A commentary by Adam Minter in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Monday, January 22, 2018, “No One Wants the World’s Used Clothes”, cites the fate of  over 200 manufacturing plants in Paniput, India which for decades was the world’s largest recycler of woolen garments, a $4 billion trade in used-clothing.
The shoddy was made into cheap blankets for disaster relief, making over 100,000 blankets each day.

What would seem to be a good, as well as worthwhile solution to the glut of useable, but unwanted, fibers has hit an economic snag.  Minter estimated that between 2000 and 2015, global production of clothing had doubled, however the average number of times the clothing was actually worn declined by 36 percent.  This appears to be good news for the shoddy recyclers.  Enter the Chinese manufacturers.  It seems that using modern techniques, the Chinese could produce more blankets, in various colors, selling the new polar fleece blankets for $2.50 (the recycled blankets retailed for $2.00).  So now, Panipat is changing.

The crux of this environmental disaster is that even with production of shoddy at its highest peak there would still be a growing deluge of used clothing entering the market.  Now, with cheap, new fabrics available,  textile manufacturers are attempting solutions by creating new fibers from recycled materials.  This is a long process and quite a challenge.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

F is for Fortuny

Mariano Fortuny

Recently, well known mystery writer Sue Grafton died at the age of 77.  She titled her books with an alphabetic device – “A is for Alibi”, for example.  I borrowed her idea for several of my blogs.  Today,  “F is for Fortuny”.

Spanish-born textile and fashion designer Fortuny (1871-1949) studied many of the arts: painting, sculpture and photography. His interest in the effects of lighting led to creating stage sets for opera and the theater.  Between 1901 and 1934 he registered more than 20 inventions for stage lighting systems and machinery for the production of textiles.

His fascination with textiles came from his father’s collection of fabrics-including samples of antique materials- and his mother’s preference for the textures and colors of Morocco.

Attuned to all aspects of fabric printing he produced many of his own dyes and stencils, never using the exact design and color palette twice.  Most of his work was monochromatic-the most notable exceptions were block-printed or stenciled designs with gilt or silver pigments.  His material of choice was silk because of its quality, texture and variety of forms and his simple, classic designs were functional as well as non-restricting, which was far removed from the fitted gowns of his contemporaries. 

With doubt his most famous design (1907) was the Delphos dress, a simple, pleated, satin silk that he reproduced for over 40 years.  The finely pleated silk material was sewn in a cylindrical shape with holes for arms and head.  All dresses reached the floor, covering the feet.  An optional belt could be worn at the waist or under the bust.  These dresses were stored by being rolled lengthwise, twisted from both ends creating a coil and placed in a small hat box, which preserved the pleating.  He patented this pleating process in 1909, building a factory in 1922 which is still in operation today.

 Similar in design are these lamps created by Ayala Serfaty in 1984. They were made of hand-dyed, custom crushed Indian silk in a range of rich colors and neutrals and featured in an article “Leading Lights” by Polly Guerin in Art and Antiques magazine, June 2006.